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The gate, a conspicuous element in the Chinese architectural landscape, appears as the character men 門 in ancient Daoist philosophers as well as in later religious Daoist and Buddhist texts, works on Chinese medicine, and more. Its many, varied occurrences notwithstanding, this paper focuses on the symbolic meaning and significance of the gate in the first chapter of the Daode jing and its medieval expansions in combination with an analysis of the gate’s role in architecture.
Gates in architecture differ according to structural type, and their symbolic meanings vary accordingly. Nevertheless, they all constitute a powerful locus that conveys diverse messages and connects two different realms—inside and outside. I suggest taking the Chinese gate as a significant, multi–layered symbol that constitutes a “potentiality gap,” in which a rite of passage takes place. It also offers a unique opportunity for any human being to take a quantum–leap of the mind and internal transformation. Earthly and textual gates can be named and discussed in ordinary language, yet they carry the potential of opening to the way to the world of absolute truth (i.e., take part in the creation of Dao), which cannot be named or talked about. Special emphasize will be given to one specific type of ‘transformative gate’, namely, texts (or books).